Red Sox Century: One Hundred Years of Red Sox Baseball
By Glenn Stout & Richard A. Johnson
Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000
Reviewed by David Nevard
When I was just a lad in the Little League… My Cubs teams had just won a surprising minor league pennant. For a week or two that August my family vacationed at a cottage on Crescent Lake, New Hampshire. Every evening we would light the fireplace, roast ears of fresh corn, and play Po-Ke-No while listening to Folk Songs Sing-Along with Mitch Miller. Songs like "Sweet Violets" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" danced in my head as I fell asleep on the screened-in porch, ready to arise at dawn and go fishing.
I had a small red book with me that summer, The Boston Red Sox, by Fred Lieb. We must have been assigned to do a summer book report for school, and I'd gotten this book out of the public library. I was interested in baseball, but didn’t know much of its history. The Red Sox, as long as I could remember, had been a sad-sack team, a jokey mediocre team that you loved only secretly. "Good luck to you and the Red Sox!" was the sarcastic remark of the day.
Fred Lieb's book opened up a whole new world for me. The Red Sox had once been a great team, a proud team, a team feared by all others. Champions of the World many times over. The names of the 1910's were magical. Lewis, Speaker, and Hooper -- the greatest outfield in history. Smoky Joe Wood -- 34-game winner who outdueled Walter Johnson -- and his batterymate "Old Rough" Bill Carrigan. Names like Sea Lion Hall, Larry Gardner, Sad Sam Jones, Heinie Wagner, Buck O'Brien, Ernie Shore, Stuffy McInnis, Dutch Leonard. The team was nicknamed the Speed Boys and wore all-white uniforms playing in a brand new Fenway Park.
Then of course there was Babe Ruth. Everybody knew he was a Yankee, but what's this? He was a Red Sox before that, and a pitcher, too. It was as if there were two Babe Ruths. What a remarkable story -- like the time when Ruth got thrown out by the umpire after walking the first batter, and Ernie Shore came in and pitched a perfect game.
And it had all ended, this magic era, when a man named Harry Frazee sold all the players to the Yankees and the Red Sox became the worst team instead of the best team, and Babe Ruth became the other Babe Ruth, the one who was played by William Bendix in the movie. The world had been turned upside down, and now I knew what it had been before.
Back in school I gave my book report, handwritten on wide-lined notebook paper. I seem to remember the report being illustrated but I don't know where I would have gotten the pictures (there were no Xerox machines around). Perhaps I cut some of the pictures out of the book a sacrilege, but I guess I didn't know any better. I probably got an A on the report because the subject was so vivid in my mind, as it still is today.
Many years later, in the 1980's, Fred Lieb's book was still on the library shelf, with its illustrations missing. When I began writing for A Red Sox Journal I borrowed the book from the library several times for reference. The book had been written just after the 1946 pennant, when the future looked rosy indeed for the Carmine Hose. That was another lost era -- the days of Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams -- the other Ted Williams, the skinny wild one they called the Splinter, not the cranky oldster that I knew. At the time Fred Lieb wrote it, the story seemed to end on a happy note: Tom Yawkey had purchased the club and restored it to its former glory.
Nowadays Lieb’s book might seem unsophisticated, but in those days most of its readers probably were children, or Young Adults in library parlance. Baseball literature was pretty sparse in the 1940’s, and more simplified and "gee whiz" than what we are used to. But the appeal of the book is still strong. As I read other histories of baseball and the Red Sox, I realized that many of the incidents and anecdotes were descended from Fred Lieb's book. Lieb was a firsthand source, a reporter who was actually on the scene and who knew the people he was writing about. I trusted him more than the other sources, and he became my official reference for the years 1901-1946.
Eventually I found R. Plapinger, in Oregon, an excellent source for used baseball books. I learned that Lieb’s book had been part of a whole series published by G.P. Putnam, one book for each team. From the Plapinger catalog I bought a copy of Fred Lieb’s The Boston Red Sox for $40, and for the same price another Putnam, The Boston Braves by the venerable Boston sportswriter Harold Kaese. The Kaese book had an unfortunate publication date (1947, the year before the Braves won the pennant), but was otherwise a solid reference work for my Boston shelf.
The 1980’s saw the publication of Peter Gammons’ Beyond the Sixth Game, an account of the Red Sox franchise after Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run. It was written in the days when Gammons still had an ear to the local scene; he had not yet become a national media conglomerate. BTSG told the story of how free agency wrecked baseball and made it better, with the turmoil that surrounded Tom Yawkey, Dick O’Connell, and Haywood Sullivan on one side; Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, and Fisk on the other.
In the Watertown Library I found a book to fill the gap between Lieb and Gammons: What’s the Matter with the Red Sox? by Al Hirshberg. Its theme was that Tom Yawkey had not really saved the franchise after all; that something had gone wrong, that the team had fatal flaws which kept reappearing regardless of the manager or the players. Someone took this book out of the Watertown Library and didn’t return it (you know who you are!). This forced me to petition Mr. Plapinger for a copy, which he eventually found and sold it to me.
There were other Red Sox histories. In the early 1990’s a New York writer named Peter Golenbock penned a volume called Fenway; the best part was that Glenn Stout had been Golenbock’s source for the early chapters. We knew Glenn through our baseball buddies Phill Robertson & Frank Sullivan, producers of the TV show Forever Baseball. They said, you’ve got to meet this guy, he knows exactly where all the old ballparks were. Glenn was from Ohio or some other Midwestern state. His first claim to fame was as The Baseball Bard. Every Opening Day, attired in a baseball uniform his mother had made, Glenn would stand on the bridge over the Turnpike and recite baseball poems like "Casey At the Bat" to the crowds heading toward Fenway. Or at least this how I remember it; it was a long time ago.
The important thing was that Glenn was the curator of the McGreevey collection at the Boston Public Library. Nuf Ced McGreevey, as all Sox fans should know, was the original Sox fan. He ran a tavern called Third Base (your last stop before heading home). It was a sports bar, where McGreevey would end baseball arguments with the cry of "Nuf ced!". He was the leader of the Royal Rooters, a boisterous fan club who showed up with a brass band to serenade the Red Sox and taunt their opponents.
McGreevey was practically a member of the Red Sox. His influence and enthusiasm helped turn the fans of Boston from the National to the American League in 1901. He was close to the players, accompanying the team to spring training and to other cities for big games. His saloon was a veritable museum of Boston baseball, with photos, trophies, news clippings, and memorabilia.
When Prohibition closed the tavern in 1919, Nuf Ced donated his entire baseball collection to the Boston Public Library. In the 1980’s the collection met its evangelist, Glenn Stout. The McGreevey Collection is the best primary source for the study of the primordial Boston Americans, and Glenn got to know it frontwards, backwards, inside and out. Since just about everybody from the old days is gone now, Glenn might be the greatest living authority on the early Sox.
When we reviewed Peter Golenbock’s book in 1992, I wrote something like, "This is all well and good, but when is Glenn Stout going to write a book?" I sent a copy to Glenn with a Post It Note stuck in that page. He wrote back, thanking us for the comment, and saying Yes, he really ought to write a book. He also gave us a nice little poem to publish.
Time passed, the years went by. Glenn stopped doing his Baseball Bard gig because he was getting hassled by too many nasty cynical fans. In 1993 he convinced the Red Sox to hold a ceremony at Fenway Park to give World Series pins to descendants of the champion 1918 Sox. There was a reception for the event at the New England Sports Museum, and there we met its director, Dick Johnson. Glenn and Dick collaborated on big beautiful coffee table book about Ted Williams. We heard that the book was successful enough that Glenn could leave his job at the Library, move to the country, and become a fulltime writer. Glenn and Dick were telephone guests on the radio show we did with Phill & Frank. Glenn and Dick wrote more coffee table books, on Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio.
Then a couple of years ago we got a letter from Glenn, saying that at last he was working on the book, the one about the history of the Red Sox. Houghton Mifflin was going to publish it in honor of the 100th anniversary of the team, in 2001. And well, here it is, sports fans, Red Sox Century. Glenn and Dick were kind enough to invite us to the book's premiere party in the Sports Museum (which after several moves is now in the Fleet Center).
When I got my autographed copy home, one of the first things I noticed was a sidebar about Fred Lieb. "For years, Lieb’s accounts served as sort of ‘unofficial’ histories. While they were easily the best such books of their kind," write Johnson & Stout, "today they appear unscholarly and anachronistic. They are full of fanciful anecdotes, secondhand reporting, and inaccuracies."
The slanders by Boston sportswriters didn’t really take hold until after Frazee’s death in 1929. Frazee’s tattered reputation, the authors say, is the only remnant of a war he waged with AL President Ban Johnson. Everybody took sides, Johnson won the war of the press, and Frazee’s enemies wrote his obituaries.
In one of Century’s biggest bombshells, Lieb is blamed for what the authors believe is the historical misrepresentation of Red Sox owner Harry Frazee. "Subsequent accounts appear to have been written almost entirely from Frazee’s obituaries [written by his enemies among the Boston press]and the fictions spouted in Lieb’s book, ignoring the primary historical resources."
This was a shock to me, having relied on Fred Lieb for most of my life. I learned long ago about primary historical resources. The best history is done from the sources closest to the event, and the further away you get from the primary, the less likely it is that the story will be accurate. It’s like that old game where each kid whispers the same sentence in the ear of the next kid, and the everybody laughs when they hear how distorted the tale is by time it gets to the end of the line. Fred Lieb wasn’t at the beginning of the line, but he was close enough that most of the writers of recent times have used him as a source.
Glenn Stout is saying, let’s go back further. Let’s go back and read the newspaper stories written that day in 1920, not Fred Lieb’s version written twenty-six years later, or someone else’s rehash of Lieb written long after that.
Why did Harry Frazee sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees? We know that Frazee did not buy the club for cash (who but Tom Yawkey ever did that?). He owed $350,000 to the previous owner Joe Lannin. We know that the Yankees paid $100,000 or $125,000 in cash for Ruth. We also know that there was a separate, personal loan from Yankee owner Ruppert to Frazee for $350,000. This loan took the form of a mortgage on Fenway Park. It might be interesting to look the Frazee story, and see how it’s been treated by various authors (these books are all in my collection). By the way, Ed Barrow managed the Red Sox at the time, and soon afterward became general manager of the Yankees.
Not No, No Nanette
The Boston Red Soxby Fred Lieb : "Though Harry later produced one of musical comedy’s biggest hits, No! No! Nanette, with its tuneful ‘Tea for Two’… there was a period after the war when flop followed flop.
" ‘The Ruth deal was the only way I could retain the Red Sox,’ Frazee once told the author in a moment of confidence…
"Barrow at first fought the deal with all his usual zeal. ‘You can’t do this to me Harry,’ he bellowed. ‘Why, Ruth is the biggest attraction in baseball.’
" ‘I’m sorry, Ed; I’ve just got to do it,’ Frazee replied apologetically.
In The American League (1955) Bill Cunningham says that Frazee needed money because Lannin and Taylor were pressing him on his notes. In Babe (1974) Robert Creamer says the same. Henry Berry in The Boston Red Sox (1975) repeats Ed Barrow’s story, as told to Tom Meany.
Another book titled The Boston Red Sox (1982), this one by Howard Liss, also quotes Barrow as told to "a sportswriter," and adds that Frazee’s musicals were losing money. In The Curse of the Bambino (1990) Dan Shaughnessy quotes Lieb quoting Frazee – that he had to sell Ruth to retain the ballclub. He has Barrow saying that both the Lannin note and theatrical failures were responsible for Frazee’s lack of cash. Ed Linn in The Great Rivalry (1991) gives the same two reasons, as does Kevin Dame in Fenway in Your Pocket (1994).
Peter Golenbock in Fenway (1992) repeats the Ed Barrow story – which seems to have been told to several writers in slightly different dramatic form. Barrow always warns Frazee not to sell the Babe, and Frazee says he has no choice.
In Red Sox Triumphs and Tragedies (1980) Ed Walton says "Frazee’s theatrical interests were suffering." Bruce Nash and Alan Zullo say the same in The Baseball Hall of Shame 2 (1986).
George Vecsey in The Baseball Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book (1988) puts forth the idea that Ruth was sold directly to finance No, No, Nanette. Curt Smith in Our House (1999) repeats the Nanette tale, as does Jim Prime in Tales from the Red Sox Dugout (2000).
- Red Sox Centuryby Glenn Stout & Richard A. Johnson : "The long–accepted interpretation of the sale of Ruth and others to New York contends that Frazee was in financial trouble and used the proceeds to finance his stage interests, which eventually paid off in the success of No, No Nanette. As a result, Boston was left with a cursed, second–rate franchise. Frazee has been described as everything from a simple fool and selfish buffoon to a con man and the devil incarnate. Yet this version of history, like a third–rate melodrama that supplies an obvious villain, is spurious on its face and virtually unsupported by any factual evidence apart from a series of misconceptions and distortions. The truth is a more complicated story.
"Significantly, in light of the events of the next few months and the way history has judged Harry Frazee, at the time of the sale there was no mention anywhere that Frazee was in any kind of financial trouble whatsoever.
"That’s because he wasn’t. All evidence indicates otherwise. Stories that put him in the poorhouse were created out of whole cloth years later by Boston writers who hated him from the very beginning because of his background and alleged Jewish genealogy."
The authors are skeptical about Fred Lieb’s brief reported conversations with Frazee. They say that Lieb, a New York writer, mostly just perpetuated the slanders of Burt Whitman (Boston Herald) –– who coined the phrase "Rape of the Red Sox." –– along with those of Nick Flatley (Evening American), Paul Shannon (Post), and The Sporting News.
Stout & Johnson make a convincing case in discrediting Fred Lieb and the whole No, No, Nanette myth. If we put ourselves back in 1919 for a moment, and forget what we know about Babe’s subsequent career, we can perhaps imagine the sale of Ruth as the equivalent of Mo Vaughn’s leaving the Red Sox. Controversial, overweight, outspoken slugger wants too much money, front office gets fed up with him. At the time, the AL was split between Ban Johnson’s "loyal five" teams, and his enemies – the White Sox, Yankees, and Red Sox. The "loyal five" wouldn’t deal with Frazee, so he didn’t have much choice about where to send Ruth (the White Sox reportedly offered Joe Jackson). It was reportedly Ed Barrow who, while opposing the deal, advised Frazee to make it for cash instead of mediocre players.
I would like to have seen more attention paid to Ed Barrow. He was closer to the Babe Ruth story than anyone, and in some versions of Barrow’s tale (such as Golenbock’s), Frazee says, "I can’t help it. Lannin is after me to make good on my notes. And my shows are not going so good." I guess I will have to find a copy of Ed Barrow’s memoirs…
By the way: Pesky did not hold the ball in ‘46. In 1972 Aparicio fell rounding third, but the big blunder was Yaz running with his head down; he should have stopped at second. No decision yet on whether Clemens asked to be taken out of Game 6 in ‘86. And so it goes…
Red Sox Century book review by Joe Kuras
The Library of Book Reviews